No one should be surprised Monday when the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities announces it has chosen the District's Savoy Elementary School for its "Turnaround Arts Initiative." Part of the DC Public Schools system, Savoy is one of only eight institutions nationwide selected during a highly competitive process.
It's rare to have such good education news emanate from Ward 8. But good news is becoming a regular occurrence and expectation at Savoy -- especially since Patrick Pope became the permanent principal nearly a year ago. Leadership really does matter.
I couldn't reach Pope over the weekend for comment. But sources told me Savoy likely will be highlighted during the "Good Morning America" television show. (Mayor Vincent C. Gray, a fan of "Sex and the City," may want to suspend all executive activities, since Sarah Jessica Parker is scheduled to participate in that segment.) A film crew was at Savoy last week, taping interviews with Pope and staffers.
In an April 11 letter to Pope, Rachel Goslins, the committee's executive director, said Savoy "demonstrated the capacity for whole school achievement through effective and integrated arts strategies." The school will receive "arts education services," including training at the Aspen Institute. Its designation also could mean more money from private foundations and corporations.
"We are excited to help you fully utilize the arts in finding new ways of reaching and teaching your students," Goslins added.
Two years ago, Savoy's decline was palpable: It failed to meet federally mandated annual progress benchmarks. The school environment was a mix of unruly students and burned-out or disillusioned faculty. Then, Pope stepped in.
The former principal of Rose L. Hardy Middle School, Pope has been roundly praised by parents, teachers and advocates throughout the District for his ability to turn around institutions. Hardy's test scores rose significantly, as did its population, during his tenure. The school also received awards for its tightly knitted arts and traditional academics curriculum.
Using a three-year, $500,000 federal grant, Pope has launched a similar effort at Savoy. It is the DCPS' only elementary school-level integrated arts program. The selection by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities promises to bring Savoy greater attention.
It certainly means an expansion of the current program. Government sources knowledgeable of the project told me, next school year, all students in grades one through five will take instrumental music. All students -- regardless of grade level -- also will be assigned a movement or dance class every day. These will be in addition to traditional courses like English and math.
Booz Allen Hamilton has been selected by the committee to evaluate the effectiveness of the Turnaround Arts Initiative at each of the eight schools, including Savoy. The aim is to determine the benefits of arts education and to possibly develop a solid model that could be implemented nationally.
If past is prologue, Pope will be successful. He and his Savoy team will continue to deliver dramatic and substantive academic improvements -- if Mayor Gray and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson give them the space and autonomy they need and deserve.
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.